Interviews from the Archives: Philip Mees
We have created a mini series of excerpts from our archive of interviews in the RSF Quarterly. Lots of wisdom was shared by these individuals who hold deep ties to the roots of the organization as early trustees and staff members. We chose to focus on aspects around money, spirit, and associative economics as these themes are core to RSF’s history – and very relevant to our work today.
The interviews were conducted by John Bloom, now RSF Vice President, Organizational Culture. They were part of his exploration of the guiding thoughts that helped to form what was then called Rudolf Steiner Foundation and now RSF Social Finance.
Philip Mees, 2000
John: What from the bank environment informed or changed the way you could work in RSF?
Philip: The way I originally learned to approach a loan was so much more relevant in this environment of RSF than it was in the environment of the big bank. First you need to know your customer, to trust your customer, and to be trusted by the customer. However, each project also has to make sense on its own merits. That’s why you have to do credit analysis. Underlying the techniques of credit analysis and objective judgment, there is a subjective world of people being able to get along together, wanting to work with each other to accomplish something. All of these factors are important to us.
John: We try to be somewhat objective about those subjective aspects, don’t we?
Philip: Absolutely. That’s where the art comes in. Banking is not a science by any means. Banking is an art because one deals with people who want to do something in the world. One needs to make judgments on what one thinks of what they want to do in the world, and then whether one wants to support it. That’s not a scientific process. I’ve never called it an artistic process, but I’ve always talked about the art of banking.
John: Behind financial transactions and relationship is money. What is money?
Philip: Money is something that belongs to us. We have the clothes that belong to us, we live in the kind of house that belongs to us, we live the kind of life that belongs to us, and we have the illnesses that belong to us. The money we have is intimately connected with our karma. The decisions that we made before we were born for the kind of life that we were going to lead have financial consequences. Daily we face the consequences of the decisions that we made before birth and all the way through our life. In that way, money is the expression of very deep spiritual realities.
One of the ways we build our existence in the world is by doing things in it. We find our identity through the things we do. We make a living and acquire things, and those things are represented by money today. We acquire that which we have earned.
Money is earned by thinking, thinking about things of the world and being able to transform things and organize activity, as well as by physical labor. When you look at how people have made money throughout history, the one thing that stands out is that people who work only with their hands, do only manual things, never make any money. Society seems to be organized in such a way that they are able to subsist, they are able to continue doing that, but they will never build a surplus.
Through the ages, the people who really made money had other people work for them, even back to when the capital was accumulated through conquest. The economic or business way of accumulating capital is quite new. In the old days people went out, made war, plundered, and acquired land. Land and natural resources were the real base of capital. The kings or rulers who directed these conquests had their people bring them the spoils and gave them a small part back. Thinking has always been connected with accumulated capital.
John: What is capital? Is it something other than a specialized form of money?
Philip: I have trouble drawing a line between the two. When you direct the kind of thinking I’ve just described, you make money. Almost automatically you build up a surplus, and that surplus is today called capital. It’s an interesting word, because the Latin word caput, meaning head, is the origin. It never comes from the hands. Capital is the result of spirit and the spiritual activity of thinking. That’s why it needs to go back into creating new spiritual activity, so that people develop the capacity for new thinking.
John: Money is also then connected to the renewal of human capacity.
Philip: I love the statement by Rudolf Steiner where he says, “The gift is the most productive economic transaction that you can create.” A gift helps create new spiritual capacities. A gift to a school, for example, enables a number of new children to learn things that will make them productive in the economy one way or another.
John: The picture of thinking and capital that you have outlined depends on an individual at the head of a hierarchical structure. The pyramids are the classic example of architecture reflecting cultural and economic hierarchy. Do you think that there are new models of people working in businesses that are not so individual-driven, or is that a challenge for the future?
Philip: Well it depends how you use your thinking. In the economy there is no equality. The spiritual capacities of people are unequal, and they result in unequal work in the economy. In the political sphere and before the law, we are all equal. But, in the economy, in the art of applying the spiritual capacity of thinking to matter, we are not all equal.
Philip is a former Trustee and staff member of RSF.